Under mounting budget pressure, the US Army probably will have to shrink the size of its force below a planned target of 520,000 troops, the new Army chief of staff said Thursday.
General Ray Odierno, who took over as Army chief Wednesday, said the push to reduce the deficit would make it difficult to maintain the Pentagon’s minimum figure.
“Do I think we’re going to end up at 520,000? Probably not. So, what is the right number?” he told reporters at the Pentagon.
Army planners were looking at whether the force would be able to fight two wars at the same time with 520,000 troops, he said.
“We’re still doing some analysis,” Odierno said. “We’re working through several different scenarios that will help us to figure that out.”
Ensuring the ability to fight two wars simultaneously has long been a pillar of US military doctrine, though it has come under under question in recent years.
Asked if the Army could wage two wars at the same with less than 520,000 soldiers, Odierno said: “I think at 520, we could probably do it fairly close. Below 520, we can’t.”
Odierno warned that moving too quickly to downsize the Army could carry risks and undermine the efficacy of the force, saying it was important to retain a sufficient number of mid-level officers and sergeants.
“If you go too small too fast, it takes away your flexibility,” he said.
Defense officials are examining a range of potential budget cuts and weighing what missions or tasks might have to be sacrificed or scaled back as a result.
The Army absorbed the brunt of two protracted ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, expanding the size of its force to keep up.
The US Army now has about 569,000 active duty troops, with a temporary increase of 22,000 forces set to run out in 2014.
Defense analysts have questioned the likelihood of another massive counter-insurgency campaign after a difficult ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan, while former defense secretary Robert Gates had urged military commanders to adjust their thinking about future threats.
But Odierno said he could not rule out the possibility of another major counter-insurgency mission.
“I am not willing to say that we will never do that again,” he said.